The first real cold has hit and I am putting ginger in my tea for that extra wall-tightening glow in the stomach.
Grated fresh ginger, brewed with some ceylon leaves and milk: a lovely way to warm up a morning, or a wintery mood-dip in the afternoon.
Hot, delicious, an ancient root of suffusive goodness and fiery health, ginger (zingiber officinale) has long been very popular here in Asia for various ailments and health conditions – it is practically a medicine. You might even say that there has been an actual ‘shoga boom’ in Japan recently: while pickled red ginger has always been a condiment for sushi, and fresh ginger often served with grilled pork, currently, a lot of shoga sweets, beverages and various other powders and medicines have been hitting the market here: the rhizome is seen as something of a cure-all – and it is my kind of panacea.
In terms of perfume, the essential oil of ginger is usually deemed a masculine colour in the perfumer’s palette, and thus occasionally crops up in the top notes of spicy men’s fragrances such as Gucci’s brooding, loaded (and now discontinued) Envy for men, which has a gorgeously gingery top accord. It does not feature in its own leading role as often as it might, but there are exceptions, and if you love the smell and sensation of ginger, please read on.
People after a very literal-minded ginger fix should perhaps turn, as their first port of call, to Demeter, masters of gratifying one-note cravings. They will sort you out temporarily with their Gingerbread, Fresh Ginger, and even Ginger Sushi ‘feel-good fragrances’, but like Ginger Ale (see below), the impression usually only lasts a short while before you have nothing on your wrist (this is, after all, the idea with Demeter – they are only meant as ‘pick me up’ scents). There is an aspect of Scratch N’ Sniff.
For a more interpreted, fresher form of the root, Ginger Essence by Origins is a pleasantly convincing fragrance (citric, floral, very clean and American) that features ginger in a more gentle and feminine role, while other more lasting, gourmand spice scents have very pleasing prominent gingerbread notes, such as the 1926 winter classic Bois des Isles (Chanel) and its male offshoot Egoïste, although the main player in these two is undoubtedly more the balmy, floral sandalwood that lies beneath.
But on with the ginger…
FIVE O CLOCK AU GINGEMBRE / SERGE LUTENS (2008)
Serge Lutens finally left the caravanserai of the orient for English tea at the Ritz with this fragrance; an imaginary afternoon of cakes, tea, and crystallized ginger among the cafe clatter and bonhomie of those reposing and catching up away from the cold. The result is very pleasing – some orange peel here, some Earl Grey there – and a very cosy perfume that is nice to dab on in winter. As six o clock approaches though, it gets a touch less interesting, with a generic spicy warmth in the nineties manner, and focuses more on the drabness of the washers-up out in the darkening kitchens.
GINGER ALE / DEMETER (1997)
The smell of ginger ale always reminds me of my grandparents coming round on a Sunday evening and the standard request for a ‘whisky and dry’ – the dry rasping bubbles of ginger ale carbons popping from the glass. This smells identical to that first pouring in of Schweppes; then fades away to a nondescript note as though you had spilled some ginger ale on your skin while fixing that second or third whisky.
POUR HOMME/ VERSACE (1984)
A brief tale of ginger and ‘missed opportunity’ from my youth……….
In the summer of 1989, I was playing keyboards for The Fanatics, a local Solihull band who later changed their name to Ocean Colour Scene and achieved great success in the early nineties in the UK and elsewhere ( I even find their songs, tauntingly, at karaoke in Japan……)
They all became millionaires. I wasn’t allowed to stay with them (university- I had wanted a year out to just see how it went), but for a while it was fun anyway, and I got to go to all the parties and meet some famous pop stars. At one, a post-gig thing, I was in quiet conversation with Ruben, boyfriend of the bassist’s-girlfriend’s-sister, a long-haired youth who was gentle, and handsome as a drawing by his namesake, and who was emanating, discreetly, the classic Versace L’Homme from his skin.
In fact we were in the middle of talking about this scent, him passionately trying to convince me it was the greatest men’s scent ever made, when my head was suddenly punched against the wall from behind, cutting me just above the eye. I had no idea what had hit me, but in fact it was Duncan in an uncharacteristically jealous rage (perhaps I had been more entranced than I realized). Seconds later he had been thrown onto the pounding dancefloor and was being kicked by me as the blood flowed. The group’s bouncers immediately came to break up the lovers’ scrap and we were thrown out in disgrace, me crying in the taxi all the way back home.
Ruben wasn’t my type anyway, beautiful though he was, and I wouldn’t have worn his scent myself, but I have to admit that he did smell wonderful, because the original Versace, in my view, is something of a masterpiece (this may seem like a contradiction in terms given how crass the house’s perfumes are now, but in the eighties Versace did actually use do some nice fragrances: does anyone remember the sultry Milanese jasmine that was V’è? )
There really is nothing Pour L’Homme, in its original incarnation, it was smooth, complex, spicy, citric, creamy, fresh and sexy, with a beautiful and vivid top note of ginger that shone right through the formula to become its focus. Seductive, yes, but classy – just about – and irresistible.
I wish there were more masculines in this vein; forthright, yet elegant, complex enhancements of male beauty.
RICCI CLUB/ NINA RICCI (1989)
Long disappeared from Ricci counters, this very special scent can still easily be found online.
My friend Owen and I used to call this perfume Love instead because in fact to us that’s what it smelled like. We both had bottles, possibly as Christmas presents from our parents I think, but he wore it better than me, living in it for a year or two and smelling excellent: a warm, citrusy, very huggable cologne with a gorgeously fresh ray of ginger shining through the whole like a sunny day in October. It is a masculine of its era, very ‘trustworthy male in adorable woollen sweater’, but definitely worth seeking if you are searching for a well judged, temperate, but big-hearted, ginger.
GINGER MUSK / MONTALE (2006)
I love many a Montale perfume and could wear practically everything in their lineup, but a lot of the scents, while beautifully crafted, perhaps lack innovation.
Ginger Musk is different. It has that shock of the new, a smell that you didn’t know you wanted to exist until you actually smelled it: an adorably feminine and sexy combination of aerial musks, dreamy fruit and a fresh-floral ginger that scintillates beckoningly with an abundance of freshly washed, long-flowing hair.
Hard to find but worth seeking out.
UN CRIME EXOTIQUE / PARFUMERIE GENERALE (2007)
La piece de resistance. It is obvious that the creator of this perfume (Pierre Guillaume) was having a lot of fun with dabbling in his wintery concoctions when the results are as startling as this.
The ‘exotic crime’ in question is perhaps the ultimate spiced ginger: a pungent globe of medicinal spices, cinnamon sticks and baked apple sweetbreads like some heart-lulling medieval Christmas wine. It is quite wonderful – there is nothing richer, and you may laugh each time with the audacity of it all each time you apply.
A wonderful choice for the coming holiday season.
If you know of any other great ginger scents I am missing here, please let me know!